How fat, less important than where that fat is!

November 08, 2017

According to researchers at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, when it comes to assessing the risks for cardiovascular events and metabolic disease, how much fat a person has is not as important as where that fat is located.

The researchers say so-called 'healthy' individuals may be at risk for heart disease and in the face of an obesity epidemic, it is being revealed that where fat is distributed is of high importance.

For the study the researchers used cardiac and CT scans to measure multiple fat depots in 398 white and black participants aged between 47 and 86, and they found that the amount of fat a person had deposited around organs and in between muscles (nonsubcutaneous fat) had a direct correlation to the amount of hard, calcified plaque they had.

Calcified plaque itself is not considered risky, but it is associated with the development of atherosclerosis, or the presence of less stable, fatty deposits in the blood vessels that can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Lead researcher Dr. Jingzhong Ding, an assistant professor of gerontology, says the hypothesis was that this kind of fat is quite different from subcutaneous fat, or fat just below the skin, and subcutaneous fat may not be as bad as having fat deposited around organs and in between muscles.

Research by Dr. Ding has already shown that fat deposited around the heart (pericardial fat) is associated with calcified plaque in the arteries and therefore may be worse than having a high BMI or a thick waist.

Dr. Ding says for that study, the hypothesis was that pericardial fat released inflammatory cytokines and free fatty acids directly into the coronary arteries, leading to endothelial dysfunction, which initiates atherosclerosis.

Ding is continuing long-term studies to investigate whether individuals with excessive fat deposited in and around organs and muscles may be at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cardiac events regardless of overall body fat.

He says it is known that even thin people can have excessive non-subcutaneous fat and should the hypothesis be confirmed, ways to specifically target the non-subcutaneous fat depot must be found.

The findings of the study which was funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the National Institutes of Health, will appear in the September issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, a publication of the American Society for Nutrition.

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